In addition to quality wine, roquefort cheese, small rations of food, joie de vivre, art, siesta, music, pétanque, lots of walking outdoors, community, spring water, spas, herbs like rosemary and other elements, could mushrooms also account for French longevity ? In this blog-article, I will first examine the Science that claims Boletus mushrooms to be laden with anti-aging healthy compounds (Section A) and thenceforth, I will delve into some analysis on longevity and antioxidant mechanisms that bestow upon mushroons their life extension superfood status. (Section B)
Top: An adult Cèpe de Bordeaux (Boletus edulis). Finding and gently picking one of these mushrooms (without removing their rhizome-based root) is an intensely joyful moment for most French people. Culture oblige.
The French Cèpe, King of Mushrooms
As we know, the longevity record breaker Jeanne Calment of Arles (South France) has never been surpassed and France as a Nation has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, especially the women who tend to smoke much less than Frenchmen. (1) (Source) And since most French people relish mushrooms, there may be a Mushroom connection to French Longevity.
In France, the chanterelles are known as the Queens of the Mushroom Kingdom, while the cèpes, or boletus, are called the Kings of Mushrooms. Chanterelles are delightfully light and savoury while Cèpes (i.e., ceps) are robustly unctuous and nutritious. And indeed, according to recent research, they contain one of the key anti-aging and mitochondrial protective compound, the unusual amino acid L-ergothioneine, which is as potent of a physiological cytoprotectant as glutathione.
“Ergothioneine (ET) is an unusual sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acid, histidine, which is derived exclusively through the diet. Although ET was isolated a century ago, its physiologic function has not been clearly established. Recently, a highly specific transporter for ET (ETT) was identified in mammalian tissues, which explains abundant tissue levels of ET and implies a physiologic role. Using RNA interference, we depleted cells of its transporter. Cells lacking ETT are more susceptible to oxidative stress, resulting in increased mitochondrial DNA damage, protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation. ETT is concentrated in mitochondria, suggesting a specific role in protecting mitochondrial components such as DNA from oxidative damage associated with mitochondrial generation of superoxide. In combating cytotoxic effects of pyrogallol, a known superoxide generator, ET is as potent as glutathione. Because of its dietary origin and the toxicity associated with its depletion, ET may represent a new vitamin whose physiologic roles include antioxidant cytoprotection”. (2) (Source)
According to Robert Beelman, Professor Emeritus of food science and director of Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for health, ergothioneine, which is highest in mushrooms, could be one of the reasons why countries like France and Italy have much less neurodegenerative diseases than the United States.
“[C]ountries that have more ergothioneine in their diets, countries like France and Italy, also have lower incidences of neurodegenerative diseases, while people in countries like the United States, which has low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, have a higher probability of diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. Now, whether that’s just a correlation or causative, we don’t know. But, it’s something to look into, especially because the difference between the countries with low rates of neurodegenerative diseases is about 3 milligrams per day, which is about five button mushrooms each day.” (3) ( Penn State News November 9, 2017)
Top: a baby Cèpe de Bordeaux. In France, there are essentially four types of cèpes, see footnotes 6 & 7
A closer look: Analysis and Mechanisms
Ergothioneine and glutathione are considered important antiaging compounds. When they are combined in the same food, they have a synergistic effect. Wild cèpes, (also knowns as boletus or porcini, in Italy) mushrooms, contain the highest amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione of the thirteen mushrooms tested. They are heat stable so when they are lightly cooked as in French culinary tradition, they retain most of their benefits. When the combined Ergothioneine and glutathione, known as Master antioxidants are also combined to mushrooms others compounds, from vitamin D and Bs to selenium and zinc, they exude a powerful anti oxidant effect, which is one of the keys to better controling the aging process.
In this Perspective, the Guardian noted that scientists now believe that both these compounds ergothioneine and glutathione are important to protect the body against the maladies of old age, such as cancer, CVD and neurodegenertive conditions. (4). In terms of biochemical pathways, ergothioneine has been shown to be key in protecting DNA from oxidative damage, (5) (Source) while glutathione is remains important for successful detoxification of heavy metals and other contaminants within the cell.
Cèpe à tête noire (Boletus aereus), with black fruity cap
Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin?
From the dark or bronze boletus (6), to the more brownish Bordeaux cep, these antioxydant mushrooms are indeed quite popular in French forests. When Napoléon decided to reforest France with massive Tree planting schemes “tous azimuths”, mushrooms were blessed with the perfect niche and all the more so that today’s French anti-pollution laws are mostly based on the precautionary principle and the People’s superior health interests, over corporate greed. Today, there are four types of ceps, the most famous of which is the cèpes de Bordeaux (Boletus edulis). (7)
Because the body can’t make ergothioneine, scientists are calling this rare animo acide a new vitamin. (reference pending). And because mushrooms and in particular cèpes have been gifted by Evolution to benefit from an abundance of this molecule, (ie, up to 528 mg per kilogram in the fruit body also known as the mushroom cap), (8) it may be reasonable to assert that boletus mushrooms are indeed the Sun Kings of the Mushroom Kingdom.
It is with nostalgia that I conclude this article. When i think of Cèpes, i remember my father getting us up at 4 to 5 am to be among the first in the wild forests of the Acquitaine (Of which Bordeaux is the capital) so that we could pick as many mushrooms as possible before the other mycologists and mushrooms pickers arrived on the scene of action.
At the Pyrenée’s Mediterranean Optimal Longevity Center, those same ceps, (but from the mountain variety) flourish twice a year and given the non touristic mountain area where the Center is located, there are still plenty of wild health-promoting and longevity mushrooms for all who come to the Center’s health vacation retreats.
It is indeed part of the Center’s rejuvenation program to show workshopees how to find and identify wild medicinal and culinary mushrooms, including French gonaderma (reishi), if only because the Center’s location is located in one of the most pristine and lush areas in Mediterranean Europe. (9)
Christian Joubert (Happiness Medicine Institute & Mediterrenean Optional Longevity Center director)
Text still under construction
Reference and Precision Notes
(1). Lancet, February 2017.
(2). http://Paul BD, Snyder SH. The unusual amino acid L-ergothioneine is a physiologic cytoprotectant. Cell Death Differ. 2010 Jul;17(7):1134-40.
(3). http://news.psu.edu/story/491477/2017/11/09/research/mushrooms-are-full-antioxidants-may-have-antiaging-potential Penn State News November 9, 2017
(6). Boletus aereus, the dark cep or bronze bolete, is a highly prized and much sought-after edible mushroom in the family Boletaceae. The bolete is widely consumed in Spain (Basque Country and Navarre), France, Italy, Greece, and generally throughout the Mediterranean. Described as a new species in 1789 by French mycologist Pierre Bulliard, it is closely related to several other European boletes, including B. reticulatus, B. pinophilus, and the popular B. edulis. Some populations in North Africa have been classified as a separate species, B. mamorensis, although they are phylogenetically very close. To feed the mushroom population of France, some of these are imported, as well as the “Champignon de Paris”, a lot of which can come from China. So because mushroom can retain heavy metals, it’s best to pick them in pristine area.
(7). Cèpe de Bordeaux (Boletus edulis) : Le plus célèbre et le plus répandu, il pousse dans les forêts. La couleur du chapeau varie selon les variétés et l’arbre auquel le champignon est associé, mais il est le plus souvent noisette. Les tubes et les pores sont blancs au départ, puis virent au jaune clair et enfin au verdâtre. Le pied, presque rond chez les exemplaires jeunes (bouchons de champagne), est trapu, en forme de massue. Il est de couleur légèrement ocracée, orné à son sommet d’un fin réseau blanc qui se prolonge plus ou moins vers le bas, les mailles du réseau s’élargissant. La chair a l’odeur et la saveur de la noisette. Cèpe tête-de-nègre (Boletus aereus): Espèce méditerranéenne associée au chêne-vert. Le chapeau est plus noir que chez le précédent, le pied plus coloré, la chair plus ferme, l’odeur et la saveur plus fortes. Cèpe d’été (Boletus reticulatus) : Comme son nom l’indique, sa saison de prédilection est la fin du printemps et le début de l’été. On le rencontre surtout dans les forêts de feuillus. Cèpe des pins de montagne ou Cèpe des pins de montagne13 (Boletus pinophilus) : un cèpe des pins, associé aux conifères (pin sylvestre notamment) ou aux feuillus d’altitude. Son chapeau est brun-rouge, assez sombre. Le pied a à peu près la même couleur, mais en plus pâle
En France, seules deux espèces ont droit légalement12 à l’appellation commerciale de « cèpe » : le cèpe de Bordeaux (Boletus edulis) et le cèpe à tête noire (Boletus aereus). Mais on trouve en réalité sur le marché deux autres espèces commercialisées sous ce nom : le Cèpe d’été ou cèpe réticulé ( Boletus aestivalis, syn. Boletus reticulatus) et le Cèpe de montagne ou Cèpe des pins ( Boletus pinophilus, syn. Boletus pinicola). Aux quatre espèces ci-dessus, dits « cèpes royaux », s’ajoutent sur le marché français Boletus mamorensis, importé du Maroc Résum: Le cèpe de Bordeaux est le plus renommé d’entre eux. Le cèpe à tête noire a une saveur plus forte, une texture plus ferme. Cèpe des pins : se récolte en septembre. Le cèpe d’été se récolte à partir de mai.
(8. The fruit bodies were determined to have 528 mg of the antioxidant compound ergothioneine per kilogram of fresh mushroom; this value was the highest among many food items tested in one study. Ey J, Schömig E, Taubert D (2007). “Dietary sources and antioxidant effects of ergothioneine”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 55 (16): 6466–74. doi:10.1021/jf071328f.
(9). One must be careful to pick mushrooms where there is little if any pollution. To feed the mushroom population of France, some of these are imported, as well as the “Champignon de Paris”, a lot of which can come from China. So because mushroom can retain heavy metals, it’s best to pick them in pristine and wild areas.
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